WILKES-BARRE — An investigation is underway into the death of a Berwick man following an incident at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility last week.
Shaheen Mackey, 41, died Friday night at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, two days after he had been brought there from the county prison, his daughter said Sunday.
“I’m looking for answers,” Tatiyanne “Tati” Mackey, 17, said. “I want to know what happened to my dad.”
An autopsy is expected to take place Monday, Luzerne County Chief Deputy Coroner Dan Hughes said. Tati said the family also plans to seek an independent autopsy.
Mackey had been brought into LCCF from Columbia County at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday after he was picked up on an alleged Protection From Abuse order violation, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said.
Details of the PFA could not be independently confirmed Sunday, but Tati said it was between her mother — with whom she is not close — and her father, who Tati said was upset that he could not visit his younger children.
Mackey was in the prison only for about five hours, Pedri said, being transported to the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The circumstances surrounding Mackey’s death — and the Wednesday night incident which resulted in his transport to the hospital — remain unclear, however.
Pedri said he could not comment on the incident, which is the subject of an open investigation. Video recordings and witness statements have been forwarded to the DA’s office, he added.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis confirmed Sunday that her office is investigating.
Mackey was no longer under prison custody at the time of his death Friday night, Pedri added, because a judge had lifted bail in the case.
Tati and a close family friend, Star Ward, who had accompanied her to the hospital last week to see Mackey, spoke with the Times Leader on Sunday.
They said hospital staff told them prison officials reported that Mackey had suffered a seizure. Tati said her father had begun having seizures in November, but that no cause had been diagnosed in previous hospital visits, when scans came back normal.
She and Ward also don’t believe that a seizure could have resulted in the bruised and swollen condition in which they observed Mackey at the hospital — let alone his death.
“We get there, his body is bruised — pelvic area, arms, legs, his body is filling up with blisters. Fluid was coming out of his eyes,” Ward said. “To be honest, he had bruises everywhere. He was turning yellow from the fluid. He had internal bleeding in his stomach.”
“They had the handcuffs on him so tight that the skin was split,” Tati added. “My dad’s beard was filled with blood, his nose had blood in it.”
Mackey had to be resuscitated on arrival at the hospital, Ward said they were told.
While Mackey survived for two more days, he never regained full consciousness. Tati said he never urinated while in the hospital, and that doctors told her “his organs were already starting to shut down” when he arrived at the hospital.
Mackey died at about 8:30 p.m. Friday, his daughter said.
“When we asked them what he died from, they kept telling us that they didn’t know,” Tati said. “I asked, did my dad have a heart attack? They said, ‘we don’t know.’”
Tati and Ward also expressed frustration at the lack of information so far from county officials.
They said relatives were not contacted until about 10 p.m. Wednesday — several hours after the incident — and that family members were not allowed into the room to see Mackey, who was under guard, until during the day on Thursday.
“Around 4:30 p.m. (Thursday) the correctional officer got a phone call,” Ward said. “He said he’s no longer in custody, he’s no longer under arrest, and just left.”
Pedri stressed that the incident is being investigated in accordance with prison protocols, and that officials are not allowed to discuss it yet, but will reach out.
“This is a man with eight kids. Forget about being an inmate, he was a human being and our condolences go out to the family,” Pedri said. “Once our investigation is complete, we will sit down with the family.”
Tati, the eldest of those eight children, acknowledged that her father had run-ins with the law in the past, but said having children helped keep him focused.
Mackey was one of several people arrested in late 2015 during a raid inside a Lehigh County hotel in which police were looking for suspects in other, more serious cases including a series of cab robberies. Court records suggest Mackey was wanted in connection with other, possibly unrelated charges. The outcome could not be verified Sunday night.
Court records do show a history that included drug charges — the most serious of which appeared to have been dismissed — as well as a harassment charge that also was dismissed.
For Tati, this week will be especially hard as she prepares to graduate from high school without her father there to watch.
“He told me he wanted to be there with his camcorder,” she said, crying. “He was trying to help me get an apartment and a car. Who’s going to help me do this?”
“I’m gonna make sure that she’s OK,” said Ward, herself in her early 20s. “And help make her the best person she can be.”
“I just want justice for my father,” Tati said.